Where I was on 9/11


Adapted from an essay of the same title, originally published September 11, 2011

I thought it was an accident. When my high school principal announced over the PA system that the World Trade Center had been hit by a plane. I distinctly remember hearing someone in the back of the class mutter, “terrorism.”

It’s an interesting juxtaposition sixteen years later. In some ways, it seems like a lifetime ago. While at the same time, I remember it like it was yesterday. Almost every year on September 11, I watch different documentaries about that day. And it’s never any less shocking that that happened.

I was struck by the thought today of how many holidays I don’t pay special attention to. I don’t care about Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, or New Year’s Day. I don’t do anything special for Veterans Day or Memorial Day. I don’t always even celebrate the Fourth of July. But 9/11 is a day every year that stands out to me.

Whenever there’s a spectacularly gorgeous late summer day, September 11 often comes to my mind. And I feel like most years since that day, wherever I’ve lived, the weather has been just as spectacular as it was in 2001.

I was afraid on that day. I remember seeing images of people in some Middle Eastern countries passing out candy and celebrating. I was horrified. It seemed like nothing would ever be normal again. The day was like a movie, but it seemed as if the bad guys had won.

Ordinary people, thousands of them: boarding flights for work and vacations, sitting in their offices, responding to the first tower after it had been hit, oblivious to the horrors which were to come, and thousands of them were gone.

Just. Gone.

America rebounded. People who can’t agree on much of anything banded together and life went on. But my fear that life would never be the same has come true in many ways. America is not and will not ever be the same as she was before 9/11. 8:46 AM that morning split time for this country. Everything we speak of happened before or after the attack.

I was taking a quiz in my third period geometry class sixteen years ago. I was 15 years old, and a sophomore in high school.

I’ve changed a lot over these last sixteen years; we’ve all changed a lot over these last sixteen years. Later during that third period math class, the principal again announced a second plane had hit a second tower, erasing any doubt that this was accidental. And I still remember what I did the rest of that day.

I hadn’t seen a television on 9/11 when I found out that the towers had fallen. When I heard about it, it didn’t seem possible, at least not to me.

Fourth period: chemistry, where we found out that the towers had collapsed. Our teacher turned on a television and we could see the horrors unfolding. It was beyond my comprehension. The chaos of that morning, for younger people, I think is hard to appreciate. We know the results of that day. In hearing the towers had been hit and that there were still other planes, it was something we had never seen before.

Fifth period was my lunch. Other information had trickled in. Rumors and speculation ran strong. Sixth period was journalism. Along with several other classes, our teachers led us to the school library where we continued to watch the news coverage. By this point, both towers had collapsed and we saw the chaos in Manhattan as the debris cloud enveloped the Trade Center Plaza. If the world were ending, I assume it would look a bit like that scene from New York.

We still had football practice that day. I still remember it was for a game against Worthington Kilbourne. After football practice, we heard planes in the distance. They were military.

In my tenth grade geometry class, as the principal announced that the World Trade Center had been struck, a young man in my math class first heard of the attack at the same time as me. I would later find out that September 11 was a seminal event in his decision to join the army. Shortly before Christmas in 2006, that fine young man lost his life for the cause of defending America and freedom. It would be impossible for me to think back to 9/11 without thinking of him. As I think of him in my recollections, it is difficult for me not to be fatalistic.

I think of kids who learn about that day now, maybe they’ve seen the same documentaries. But it’s just not the same when you know what happens from the beginning. It’s hard to appreciate the chaos. It’s hard to appreciate that when the towers were hit, people generally had no idea they were going to collapse.



Photo: Julian Menichini. It was taken on September 5, 2001. This photo is not the property of joshbenner.org, and the owner of the copyright on this photo does not endorse this blog. For more information, please click on the photograph.

Orignial source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jul/104836691/in/photostream/